Most college basketball fans have likely noticed there has been a lot more scoring in each game in at least the last two years, than in the years prior. Yes, the NCAA did decide to adjust the shot clock, changing it from a 35 second possession to 30 seconds, to increase the pace of the game, and yes, that helps contribute to more scoring. According to ESPN’s John Gasaway, scoring is up 12.3% since 2013, when men’s basketball scoring hit a historical low, averaging as many points per game (67.5) as during the 1951-52 season. A shorter possession length will lead to more attempted three point shots, which can lead to more points; I am not denying that this is a factor. However, three point percentage has been increasing every year since 2010, five seasons before the shot clock adjustment. At a measly 31% in 2010, three point accuracy has since skyrocketed, finishing last season at an impressive 35.2%. Congruently, three point attempts have increased 9.4% since 2013. When this is paired with a 8.4% increase in three point accuracy since 2013, according to John Gasaway, it is quite obvious college players have become better shooters (or defense is getting worse, just look at the scoring increase in the NBA…)
So why are teams now taking more threes than previous seasons? To start, they are better shooters from distance, hence the 8.4% increase in accuracy. At this point in the season, Division I teams are making about 49% of their twos and 35% of their threes. When looking at these numbers, it becomes very clear why teams are attempting more threes. Out of 100 two point shots, at 49%, teams can expect to score 98 points on average when shooting just twos (multiply percentage by the value of a made two point basket.) Yet, if they attempt 100 three point shots at this 35% clip, they can expect 105 points. Seven points might not seem like a large margin, but looking back to 2011 when three point shooting was at 31%, attempting two point shots statistically made more points per trip. Of course, teams are not taking 100 shots a game, regardless of the type, but it offers important insight that would commonly be overlooked when pondering this increase in volume.
In the 2007-08 season, Division I teams on average shot 32.2% from three point range, a historic mark at the time. The NCAA decided that teams were making too many threes, and implemented a move that pushed three point line back one foot, from 19’9” to 20’9”. It took time for the players to adjust to this change, but as clearly seen in the last six years, the players have adjusted quite well, actually historically well. If the three point line were to move, which it would probably do in the next few years, it would most likely be put back another foot, to 21’9” or possibly at the FIBA distance of 22’1.7”, just under two feet inside the NBA line. I am saying there will be a change not because I don’t like the increased scoring (2010 college hoops was really hard to watch,) but because the NCAA must feel the need for some regulation for this increase. The ‘new’ shot clock time is here to stay, but there is a great chance of the college three point line get being pushed out in the near future. Somewhere, LaMelo Ball is licking his chops at the sound of that.